Rabbi’s anger will fuel terror, say critics

August 29, 2002

CONTENTS

1. "Resign, Rabbi Sacks" (Jerusalem Post, Aug. 28, 2002)
2. "Misplaced criticism" (Daily Telegraph, Aug. 28, 2002)
3. "Courage to speak out" (Guardian, Aug. 29, 2002)
4. "Rabbi's anger will fuel terror, say critics" (Times, Aug. 28, 2002)
5. "Israel's UK embassy rebukes British chief rabbi" (Jerusalem Post, Aug. 29, 2002)
6. "Corrupt: Leading Rabbi accuses Israel" (Daily Mirror, Aug. 28, 2002)


CONSIDERABLE PRESS REACTION TO COMMENTS BY BRITISH CHIEF RABBI

[Note by Tom Gross]

There has been considerable press reaction to the comments made on Tuesday by the British Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. According to the Associated Press: "Sacks has been unavailable for comment since a storm of controversy broke over the interview in Britain, but Sara King Scott, his spokeswoman, confirmed to The Associated Press that he had given the interview and the quotes reproduced by The Guardian were correct."

Not surprisingly, the chief rabbi's remarks were further sensationalized in the headlines of those European newspapers with an anti-Israel policy. For example, the headline in Britain's second highest circulation paper, the (Daily) Mirror, which has a readership of several million, was " Corrupt: Leading Rabbi accuses Israel".

Sacks's comments were also widely reported and further distorted throughout the Arab media. Critics point out that it would have been naive of Sacks to suppose otherwise. Some British commentators noted with amazement that "although Dr Sacks criticized Israel's right to defend itself, he does provisionally support military action by Britain in Iraq."

I attach some examples of the press reaction below, with a summary first for those who don't have time to read the pieces in full.

-- Tom Gross

 

SUMMARIES

“MORALLY INEXPLICABLE AND ASTONISHINGLY NAIVE”

1. "Resign, Rabbi Sacks" (The Jerusalem Post editorial, Aug. 28, 2002). "It is precisely because of both his reputation and standing that his recent remarks on Israel in a newspaper interview can only be described as morally inexplicable and astonishingly naive," says the paper. "Diaspora Jewish leaders are not required or expected to blindly support the Jewish state, or even to refrain from criticizing Israel. But they are required not to endorse the gross double standards and false morality applied by Israel's most bitter opponents... Israelis have sacrificed their own lives to save Palestinian lives, by fighting terrorism in a way that no other democracy has or would. Where was Sacks's eloquent voice when 23 soldiers died fighting from house to booby-trapped house in Jenin, when every other would country would have simply bombed the trapped terrorists and their civilian hostages from the air? There is a fine line between constructive criticism delivered in a conscientious manner and ill-conceived censure whose main effect is to cheer our enemies and those of the Jewish people everywhere."

 

“MISPLACED CRITICISM”

2. "Misplaced criticism" (The Daily Telegraph editorial, Aug. 28, 2002). While the paper is broadly supportive of the Chief Rabbi, it accuses The Guardian of cynically misrepresenting the Chief Rabbi's comments to serve its own agenda: "The context in which he spoke, however, is important. Dr Sacks made his comments in an interview with the Guardian, which ran an extract from his new book, The Dignity of Difference, a serious work of moral theology. However, "Chief rabbi calls for mutual toleration from world faiths" is less enticing than the Guardian headline: "Israel set on tragic path, says chief rabbi". It is legitimate for an author to provide arresting remarks to publicise his book, but it was at best naive for Dr Sacks to utter them in a newspaper that has been unremittingly hostile to Israel."

 

GUARDIAN PRAISES THE “COURAGE TO SPEAK OUT”

3. "Courage to speak out" (The Guardian editorial, Aug. 29, 2002). In addition to praising the chief rabbi, this editorial is much more understanding of Israel's plight and predicament than the Guardian's editorials usually are. The Guardian makes the admission amazingly for an influential paper of the left that outside Israel, "Some of that anti-Israel feeling stems from anti-Semitism."

 

“MORAL BLINDNESS”

4. "Rabbi's anger will fuel terror, say critics" (The Times, London, Aug. 28, 2002). "Leading Zionists criticised Dr Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, for "moral blindness" after he made unprecedented criticisms of Israel. Zionists said that his comments would be used by enemies of Israel to fuel further violence against the Jewish state."

 

“SACKS HAS APPARENTLY FORGOTTEN THAT THE STATE OF ISRAEL IS AT WAR”

5. "Israel's UK embassy rebukes British chief rabbi" (The Jerusalem Post, Aug. 29, 2002). "In this war of self-defense," the Israeli embassy said, "Israel maintains the highest moral ground and adheres to a strict ethical code as a democratic, civic society governed by the rule of law. Any infringements by a few individuals are dealt with accordingly by the judicial system... Sacks has apparently forgotten that the State of Israel is at war, with the Palestinian terror campaign about to enter its third straight year. This is a war that Israel neither sought nor initiated, but one that was foisted upon it by an obstinate foe bent on its destruction. In such a situation, morality demands that the Jewish people defend themselves, and that is precisely what the people of Israel have been doing."

 

“CORRUPT”

6. "Corrupt: Leading rabbi accuses Israel Violence by Israel harms Jewish faith, says Britain's leading rabbi" (The Mirror, Aug. 28, 2002)



FULL ARTICLES

SACKS FAILS TO GRASP THE “TRAGEDY” OF THE CURRENT SITUATION

Resign, Rabbi Sacks
Editorial
The Jerusalem Post
August 28, 2002

As chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, Dr. Jonathan Sacks holds one of the more prominent, and highly visible, rabbinical positions in the Western world.

Since assuming his post in 1991, he has become a regular on British radio and television, presenting the people of Queen Elizabeth's realm both Jew and non-Jew with an image of Judaism that has been both erudite and appealing. Rabbi Sacks has authored more than a dozen books, lectured at universities such as Oxford, and even received an honorary doctorate from the archbishop of Canterbury.

Yet, it is precisely because of both his reputation and standing that his recent remarks on Israel in a newspaper interview can only be described as morally inexplicable and astonishingly naive.

Speaking with The Guardian long one of Israel's harshest critics he said that Israel's response to the Palestinian issue is "incompatible" with the ideals of Judaism and is "corrupting" Israeli culture. "I regard the current situation as nothing less than tragic," he said. "It is forcing Israel into postures that are incompatible in the long run with our deepest ideals."

Going one step further, Sacks spoke of "things that happen on a daily basis which make me feel very uncomfortable as a Jew." In particular, he noted, he was "profoundly shocked" by reports of smiling Israeli soldiers posing for a photograph with the corpse of a slain Palestinian. He also asserted that in 1967 he was "convinced that Israel had to give back all the land for the sake of peace" and added that he does not renounce that view now.

Sacks's views, it will be said, are similar to a fair number of Israelis and their political representatives. But therein lies the rub. Sacks is not an Israeli and he is not here with us fighting this war.

Diaspora Jewish leaders are not required or expected to blindly support the Jewish state, or even to refrain from criticizing Israel. But they are required not to endorse the gross double standards and false morality applied by Israel's most bitter opponents.

For Sacks to lecture us about "our deepest ideals" is worse than insulting. It implies that we are not as appalled by exceptional looting and gruesome grandstanding as much as he is. It pretends that we want peace less than he does. And it deprecates the fundamental value that we are fighting for our freedom and our very lives.

Sacks has apparently forgotten that the State of Israel is at war, with the Palestinian terror campaign about to enter its third straight year. This is a war that Israel neither sought nor initiated, but one that was foisted upon it by an obstinate foe bent on its destruction. In such a situation, morality demands that the Jewish people defend themselves, and that is precisely what the people of Israel have been doing.

Indeed, rather than "corrupting" us, this war of self-defense has brought out some of our finer qualities, such as patriotism, national pride, and a willingness to make personal sacrifices on behalf of the common good. Further, Israelis have sacrificed their own lives to save Palestinian lives, by fighting terrorism in a way that no other democracy has or would. Where was Sacks's eloquent voice when 23 soldiers died fighting from house to booby-trapped house in Jenin, when every other would country would have simply bombed the trapped terrorists and their civilian hostages from the air?

When young Israelis faithfully answer the call of reserve duty, they are embodying the highest of Jewish values and standards, for they are leaving aside the safety and security of their homes, donning uniforms, and going out to defend their families and their nation from attack.

As Rabbi Sholom Gold of Jerusalem told the BBC yesterday, "The only moral response that is compatible with Jewish belief is to stand up and fight and defend yourself. And every act of that sort is not immoral; on the contrary, it is the height of morality." What Sacks fails to grasp is that the "tragedy" of the current situation lies not in the fact that Israel has chosen to defend itself, but that the Palestinians chose the path of violence, in the process sending the entire region into a morass of hatred and bloodshed.

By assailing Israel, he has done his fellow Jews a grave disservice, sowing defeatism rather than deliverance. There is a fine line between constructive criticism delivered in a conscientious manner and ill-conceived censure whose main effect is to cheer our enemies and those of the Jewish people everywhere. Wherever one might reasonably draw that line, Sacks has crossed it by a wide margin. If Sacks is so embarrassed by the spectacle of Jews defending themselves as best and as morally as they know how that he cannot contain himself, that is his right, but he cannot at the same time hold office as leader of an important Diaspora Jewish community.

 

“IT WAS PREDICTABLE THAT THE GUARDIAN WOULD TURN HIS WORDS INTO AMMUNITION FOR ITS OWN PURPOSES”

Misplaced criticism
Editorial
The Daily Telegraph
August 28, 2002

The Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, is no stranger to controversy, and he has certainly stirred one up with his latest remarks about Israel. Dr Sacks sees the present conflict as "tragic, because it is forcing Israel into postures that are incompatible in the long run with our deepest ideals".

He cannot abide the "hatreds and insensitivities that in the long run are corrupting to a culture". He is made "very uncomfortable as a Jew" by "things that happen on a daily basis". The only example he gives is his "profound shock" at pictures of cheery Israeli soldiers posing with a dead Palestinian.

Note the careful emphasis on "the long run"; note, too, that he is shocked, not by the killing of terrorists in self-defence, but by any hint of triumphalism. It is a pity that Dr Sacks did not say more clearly what exactly disturbs him. A nation engaged in a struggle for survival is likely to do many things that make outsiders uncomfortable; that does not make them wrong.

In arguing that hatred may ultimately corrupt the hater, Dr Sacks is merely restating a truism of Judaeo-Christian morality. He is, of course, not a politician but a rabbi, and his target was not Israeli policy, but the moral consequences of a siege mentality.

He cannot be faulted for measuring the conduct of his fellow Jews by the law of Moses. And it is Israel's greatest strength that, as an island of democracy in a sea of despotism, it sees self-criticism not as a luxury but as a necessity.

The context in which he spoke, however, is important. Dr Sacks made his comments in an interview with the Guardian, which ran an extract from his new book, The Dignity of Difference, a serious work of moral theology.

However, "Chief rabbi calls for mutual toleration from world faiths" is less enticing than the Guardian headline: "Israel set on tragic path, says chief rabbi". It is legitimate for an author to provide arresting remarks to publicise his book, but it was at best naive for Dr Sacks to utter them in a newspaper that has been unremittingly hostile to Israel.

It was predictable that the Guardian would turn his words into ammunition for its own purposes, so distracting attention from the deeper message of his book.

Jews and Gentiles alike may reasonably debate whether Dr Sacks meant to give comfort to Israel's enemies. He has surely earned the right to the benefit of the doubt. When Israel has never been more embattled, when anti-Semitism is again ubiquitous, and when British Jews have never felt less secure, however, his own community might have expected a more robust stance.

There is a time and a place for a chief rabbi to draw attention to Israel's faults. This was, perhaps, the wrong time; and it was certainly the wrong place.

 

“A MESSAGE OF MORALITY”

Courage to speak out
The chief rabbi sets the right example
The Guardian
August 29, 2002

http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/comment/0,10551,782047,00.html

For Jews in the diaspora to criticise Israel's conduct has long been a matter of extreme delicacy verging on a taboo. Opinion leaders provoke debate on many public issues, but on Israel the conventional view in the Jewish community was that there were only two policies, either unqualified support or discreet silence. Those who broke the unwritten rule were reminded that as non-Israelis they could not understand the dangers and pressures that weigh on the country every day and night.

So when Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks decided to air controversial views about Israel's conduct in the occupied territories, he knew he would cause a storm. He has had a volume of email from Israel, much of it hostile. Jews in the United States (where the loyalty principle is strong) have also been vigorous in attack. Among British Jews the mood has been more balanced, with many applauding the chief rabbi for his courage and for his argument that "there are things that happen on a daily basis which make me feel very uncomfortable as a Jew". In Israel too there have been influential voices of praise. Arik Aschermann of Rabbis for Human Rights, an organisation of reform, orthodox, conservative and reconstructionist rabbis, made the point that chief rabbi Sacks was saying things "which many others believe but are hesitant to say out loud".

There are many reasons why the old policy of "diaspora, silence please" no longer holds water. With the advent of the suicide bomber striking indiscriminately inside Israel, Jews who visit Israel are as much at risk as those who live there. By coming to Israel they feel and share the same fear. Also, in their lives outside Israel many Jews report increased discomfort as concern rises over Israel's policies. Some of that anti-Israel feeling stems from anti-Semitism. Often it is nothing of the kind: it is simply a reasoned critique of Israeli policies. When diaspora Jews share those views, to say so publicly is not a betrayal of Judaism but a duty to be honest. Still, the greatest reason for abandoning silence is the one Rabbi Aschermann cites. It gives encouragement to those Jews who have not yet dared speak out.

It is an old paradox that there has always been fiercer debate and louder dissent among Israelis than in the diaspora. What Rabbi Sacks said is by no means radical in Israel. Hundreds of soldiers and reserve officers feel that prolonged occupation of Palestinian territories is making them do things that undermine Jewish values. Some have chosen to go to prison rather than serve in the West Bank and Gaza. Others agree, but reluctantly answer the call out of solidarity with their brother soldiers. Yet it is also true that the breadth of debate in Israel has diminished in the last two years. The fact that the two main parties share power in a coalition government has made frontal opposition hard. The suicide bomb attacks have created a tighter sense of national unity.

With an election on the horizon, the mood of conformity may not last much longer, especially now that Amram Mitzna, the potential Labour party standard-bearer, has shown a clear willingness to reopen the debate about the need for serious political negotiations with the Palestinians, the folly of trying to maintain all the settlements and the bankruptcy of relying exclusively on military force. For Jews abroad to join this discussion can only be beneficial. Rabbi Sacks has not gone into detail on the political choices or negotiating positions on offer. His is a message of morality, but it is no less urgent a part of the debate.

 

“MORAL BLINDNESS”

Rabbi's anger will fuel terror, say critics
By Ruth Gledhill and Ross Dunn
The Times (of London)
August 28, 2002

Leading Zionists criticised Dr Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, for "moral blindness" after he made unprecedented criticisms of Israel yesterday.

Zionists said that his comments would be used by enemies of Israel to fuel further violence against the Jewish state.

Dr Sacks, whose family live in Jerusalem, said that Israel's stance was incompatible with the deepest ideals of Judaism, and that the conflict with the Palestinians was corrupting the culture of Israel.

In an interview with The Guardian, Dr Sacks said things were happening daily that made him feel uncomfortable as a Jew.

In response, Eric Graus, president of Likud-Herut, a British-based movement that promotes the Zionist ideology, said: "It is unfortunate that the Chief Rabbi has allowed himself to be used by people who, at best, cannot be described as friends of Israel.

"Some of his comments as reported in the media can only act as an encouragement to our enemies to further intransigence and violence against Israel and the Jewish people.

"The overriding concern which governs (the) policy of the Israeli Government is the saving of life, which is a cardinal principle of the Jewish faith.

"By failing to recognise that Israel is acting in the highest tradition of the Jewish people, the Chief Rabbi is displaying a moral blindness."

Mr Graus, also speaking as a co-chairman of the (British) National Zionist Council, added: "We are worried that this will be used by the Arabs as an indication that there is a split and that their acts of violence and terrorism are working and that it will encourage more violence.

"I do believe that the Israeli Government is acting with extreme moderation compared with how anyone else would act under the circumstances."

Rabbi David Rosen, a former Chief Rabbi of Ireland and now international director for inter-religious affairs of the American Jewish Committee, also said that Dr Sacks's remarks might be used by Israel's enemies. It must be made clear, he said, that Israel had tried to make peace with the Palestinians but its offers had been rejected.

"The perspective (of) Israel and the majority of the Jewish people, is that we are in this situation against our will, not of our choosing.

"In essence, the criticisms of Chief Rabbi Sacks are perfectly valid, as long as the context is clear. Unfortunately, I am sure there are those who will pick up on this with glee for nefarious purposes, and want to find an opportunity to bash Israel."

Eric Moonman, president of the Zionist Federation, said: "It is not a question of apportioning blame or saying any individual Israeli is wrong. We all share a deep concern. The Chief Rabbi has considerable vision in a way that few have got in Britain. He is entitled to try and express that."

Dr Sacks's comments were welcomed by the progressive wing of the Jewish community. Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, a spokesman for the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, said: "I welcome his comments. I regard him as representative. You can only be a true friend of Israel if you reserve the right to be critical when necessary, just as any citizen of this country would do."

Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh, executive director of the Union of Progressive and Liberal Synagogues, said: "The Chief Rabbi has been very courageous in speaking out. He has not said anything that progressive rabbis have not been saying for ages. But the point is that he has said it.

"There are now deep levels of concern throughout the Jewish community about the effect that the current situation is having, not just on the political and military realities but actually on the soul of Israel."

The Labour MP Gerald Kaufman said: "I have a very high respect for the Chief Rabbi and I am pleased that he has come round to the kind of thing I have been saying for many, many months now. I think the impact will be considerable.

"Of course it will arouse some hostility among those people who believe that there is absolutely nothing the Israeli Government does that should be criticised.

"But it will not have any impact in Israel. Sharon will not pay any attention to comments from an enlightened cleric in the diaspora."

 

ISRAEL’S UK EMBASSY REBUKES BRITISH CHIEF RABBI

Israel's UK embassy rebukes British chief rabbi
By Douglas Davis
The Jerusalem Post
August 29, 2002

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/A/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1029920598843

The Israeli Embassy has taken the unprecedented step of publicly rebuking British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks over comments he made earlier this week.

In a statement Wednesday "in reference to the interview on 27 August 2002 in The Guardian with the Chief Rabbi Professor Jonathan Sacks," the embassy points out that Israel has been "forced to fight for its existence as a Jewish state and to protect its citizens" in a war of self-defense.

"This tragic war, which no other democracy has had to face in recent times, is not of Israel's making and contrary to its wishes," the statement said.

"It has been imposed upon Israel by the Palestinian leadership, who rebuffed Israel's far-reaching offer of peace and instead adopted a strategy of indiscriminate terror and virulent incitement."

In this war of self-defense, the statement continued, "Israel maintains the highest moral ground and adheres to a strict ethical code as a democratic, civic society governed by the rule of law. Any infringements by a few individuals are dealt with accordingly by the judicial system."

It notes that peace has always been a moral and strategic objective of Israel, and that successive governments have made "great efforts" to end the conflict and achieve peace with the Palestinians and the wider Arab world.

"Those Arab leaders who have renounced violence have reached historic achievements with Israel through peaceful negotiation. Yet the only result of this Palestinian campaign of terror has been to destroy many innocent lives and to shatter families, dreams and goodwill on both sides.

"The Palestinians' aspirations can only be addressed through peaceful dialogue. The current national unity government of Israel has repeatedly stated that, once the necessary measures are taken by the Palestinian leadership to end the campaign of terror, it is more than willing to resume negotiations and address all the outstanding issues."

In the interview, which was intended to publicize his latest book, Sacks told The Guardian that the ongoing violence is "forcing Israel into postures that are incompatible in the long run with our deepest ideals."

He said the current situation is "nothing less than tragic" and added that he was "profoundly shocked" by reports of Israeli soldiers being photographed smiling alongside the body of a dead Palestinian.

Such things, he said, "make me feel very uncomfortable as a Jew," adding that "there is no question that this kind of prolonged conflict, together with the absence of hope, generates hatreds and insensitivities that in the long run are corrupting to a culture."

Sacks has been unavailable for comment since a storm of controversy broke over the interview on Tuesday.

 

“CORRUPT”

Corrupt: Leading Rabbi accuses Israel
Violence by Israel harms Jewish faith, says Britain's leading rabbi
By Fiona Cummins
The (Daily) Mirror
August 28, 2002

Britain's Chief Rabbi warned yesterday that Israel's conflict with the Palestinians was corrupting its Jewish beliefs.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said the nation's actions were "incompatible with our deepest ideals".

Professor Sacks, who normally offers only full public support for Israel, revealed that he was "profoundly shocked" by the scene of smiling Israeli servicemen posing for a photograph with the corpse of a dead Palestinian.

He said: "There are things which happen on a daily basis that make me very uncomfortable as a Jew.

"There is no question that this kind of prolonged conflict, together with an absence of hope, generates hatreds and insensitivities that in the long run are corrupting to a culture."

Prof Sacks, leader of Britain's 280,000 Jews, added: "I regard the current situation as nothing less than tragic because it is forcing Israel into postures that are incompatible in the long run with our deepest ideals."

He called for Israel to bring an end to its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And he even admitted that he would be willing to meet Muslim fundamentalists, including Sheikh Abu Hamza, the north London cleric who admits to sharing the views of Osama bin Laden and who has compared Jews to Satan.

Prof Sacks's comments, made during an interview in The Guardian, prompted a sharp rebuke from Rabbi Sholom Gold, Dean of the Jerusalem College for Adults, based in Israel. Rabbi Gold said: "We who are living here, day in and day out, our perspective is the one that really counts."

He told BBC Radio 4's The World at One that the Palestinian agenda was "the destruction of the state of Israel".

"For this, there is only one response. The only moral response that is compatible with Jewish belief is to stand up and fight and defend yourself. And every act of that sort is not immoral. On the contrary, it is the height of morality.

"I have a great deal of respect for the Chief Rabbi ... therefore, it is extremely sad for me to hear him make comments of such a nature, which, for all intents and purposes, will now make him irrelevant in the world Jewish community."

Back in London, however, Labour MP Gerald Kaufman said: "I have a very high respect for the Chief Rabbi and I am pleased that he has come round to the kind of thing I have been saying for many, many months now. I think the impact will be considerable.

"Of course, it will arouse some hostility among those people who believe that there is absolutely nothing the Israeli government does that should be criticised.

"But it will not have any impact in Israel. Sharon won't pay attention to comments from an enlightened cleric in the diaspora."

Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh, who is executive director of the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues, welcomed Prof Sacks's comments.

Dr Middleburgh said: "I salute Jonathan Sacks for the courage he has shown in expressing these views in the certain knowledge that they would not go down very well in certain quarters.

"I would like to think that Rabbi Sacks's views, rather than making him less relevant to the general debate, will actually help to make him more relevant. I think that Rabbi Sacks will be getting a lot of flak from the orthodox sections in the Jewish community.

"But I hope very much that as far as he goes, and, of course, many of us would like him to go much further and express much more detail than he has we will give him support."


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.